Scientific Name: Semicossyphus pulcher
Ideal Temp: 50-70°F (10-21°C)
Environment: Inshore, Nearshore
Technique: Bottom Fishing
Lure Type: Bottom Rig
World Record: 12.88 kg (28 lb 6 oz) Isla Roca Partida, Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico 04-Nov-1999
The California sheephead is a wrasse native to the eastern Pacific Ocean. Its range is from Monterey Bay, California to the Gulf of California, Mexico.
All sheepheads are born as females and eventually change to males. Most females transform to males at a length of about 12 inches at 7 to 8 years of age. This sex change is accompanied by a marked change in appearance. Younger fish (females) are a uniform pinkish red with a white lower jaw. As they age and become males, the head and rear third of the body turns black, the midsection of the body remains red and the lower jaw remains white. In all stages of their development, sheephead have unusually large dog-like teeth.
California sheephead can grow to 3 feet long and weigh as much as 37 pounds, but this is rare. Most California sheephead caught range from 10 to 15 pounds. California sheephead can live for 35 to 40 years.
The sheephead lives in kelp forests and rocky reefs, where it feeds on sea urchins, molluscs, lobsters, and crabs. Giving birth results in planktonic larva.
Like many wrasse species, sheephead are protogynous. All are born female, and the largest individuals become male due to hormonal changes that are triggered by social cues. The two sexes have extremely different appearances so this transition is among the most dramatic among the wrasses. Because only large individuals are male, setting minimum catch sizes has made populations mostly female and with a negative effect on population sizes.
California sheephead consumes benthic invertebrates including the purple sea urchins, Pacific rock crabs, acorn barnacles, mussels, clams, and bryozoans. They also eat snails, squids, common sand dollars, eccentric sand dollars, and sea cucumbers.
The best fishing is along the bottom in any rocky formations and dense kelp beds or over mussel beds at depths from 20 to 100 feet, but can be caught as deep as 180'. Place your rig directly on the bottom because California sheephead is primarily a bottom feeder. It can be taken with hooks from 3/0 to 5/0 in size that are baited with mussels, rock crabs, lobster, shrimp, clams, or cut fish strips.